Friday, 17 May 2013

Marine Debris - The Fourth Strand

Nancy Wallace, the Marine Debris Programme (MDP) Director and Division Chief, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provided one of the key note presentation in the opening public seminar of the Woods Hole/IWC marine debris workshop.

Nancy Wallace
Here is a excerpt of some of what she said in providing an introduction to the issues arising from marine debris in the world’s oceans. The MDP was formed in 2006 after passage of the US Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act. 

Marine debris is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem. There is no part of the world that is untouched by debris and its impacts. It is pervasive, it is an eyesore, and it harms our natural resources. Marine debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the economy, and human health.

A major marine debris issue, one that has a profound impact on natural resources is derelict fishing gear. Discarded nets, rope, and monofilament fishing line will continue fishing even as they drift through the ocean. They can entangle animals, maim them, or prevent them from hunting food. Lost or discarded traps and pots can continue to entrap animals for years after they are lost adding to resource and economic losses.  Both primary sources and secondary sources of plastic are another major issue related to marine debris. Plastics can be ingested by marine life and can lead to starvation and death. There are also many questions related to the chemical impacts of plastics and research is underway to address these.

A majority of marine debris can be prevented but some cannot. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the 2009 tsunami in American Samoa and the 2011 tsunami in Japan are examples of events that led to substantial amounts of debris entering the ocean.

While there are many challenges related to marine debris, there are also many efforts to reduce the impacts. The NOAA Marine Debris Program has established a presence throughout the United States and formed partnerships with local organizations to carry out removal and prevention projects.  There are research projects underway to address the impacts of microplastics, derelict fishing gear and economic impacts of marine debris. Examples of these projects can be found at

Marine debris is a global problem and solutions must be at the global level. Two years ago, NOAA, the United Nations Environment Programme, and stakeholders from all over the globe came together to draft the Honolulu Strategy, a global strategy for reducing marine debris. 

You can find the strategy HERE.

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